How gang terrorised doomed estate

By Chris Summers
BBC News

  • Published

Three members of a gang who terrorised a London housing estate have been given long spells in jail. Their reign ended when one of them fired shots as two policemen chased him.

The case has some echoes in the 2009 film Harry Brown, in which Michael Caine plays a pensioner and ex-soldier who turns vigilante to combat a gang of violent youths terrorising a council estate.

That film was shot on the Heygate estate in Elephant and Castle, south London, not far from where Caine grew up.

A few months before the film came out, in the summer of last year, a real-life gang - led by Callum Hall and Deniz Ozdil - was terrorising the nearby Aylesbury estate.

In one incident Hall, now 21, 18-year-old Anthony Babalola and two other gang members forced their way into a flat in a tower block and threatened a young woman, Karen Sohyly, and her two young children with a gun.

Philip Bennetts, prosecuting, takes up the story: "They demanded to know where her brother Patrick was. Hall showed her bullets in the gun."

At one point Ms Sohyly's 10-year-old daughter told Hall: "Please don't shoot my mum".

Mr Bennetts said: "Hall said he was the one running the estate. He would be running things from now on."

A week later the gang approached a teenager and demanded money from him, waving a hunting knife and a pistol in his face.

Image caption,
Callum Hall, Deniz Ozdil and Anthony Babalola terrorised the estate

Seven days later, on 5 August 2009, Hall - by now wanted for questioning by police - was spotted not far from Waterloo station in central London.

He abandoned a bicycle and ran off, pursued by PC Colin Hutton and PC Vincent Turner.

At one point he turned and fired in the direction of the officers.

Customers enjoying the sunshine outside several restaurants watched the chase and - in a CCTV clip shown to the jury - could be seen reacting in shock to the gunshots.

In court PC Turner described the incident: "His arm was outstretched and I could see the tip of the gun or the barrel of the gun. He was pointing it towards me and he's clicked it.

Image caption,
A man on the balcony of the Heygate estate

"He held the gun in his right hand. He fired it and it's made a bang this time. The bang made me duck to the right.

"I believe that if he had hit me it would have hit me directly from the chest outwards - the chest, neck or face."

Hall was acquitted of attempted murder by the Old Bailey jury after he claimed he was not aiming at the officers.

Judge Brian Barker, the Common Serjeant of London, praised PC Hutton and PC Turner: "Their devotion to duty when under fire and afterwards was of the highest order.

"London is fortunate to be protected by officers of that quality and they deserve to be commended."

Hall eventually shook off his pursuers, but was arrested two weeks later, still in possession of the 9mm Baikal pistol fired.

But the reign of terror was not over.

A few days later Babalola visited Ms Sohyly and threatened to shoot her if she gave evidence against Hall.

Babalola said: "You grass and you will all get sprayed."

Changing landscape

But the gang was arrested before members could follow up their threats.

Crucially, eyewitnesses had the courage to testify.

Image caption,
Hall jumped off his bike and ran off, firing shots as police officers pursued him

The gang members were sentenced on Friday.

Hall was given an indeterminate sentence for public protection with a minimum term of 13 years.

Ozdil was given 10 years for possession of a firearm with intent to rob.

Babalola was jailed for a total of five-and-a-half years.

Soon the landscape in which the gang operated will change out of all recognition.

The Heygate and Aylesbury housing estates are in the process of being demolished as part of Southwark Council's plan to regenerate the Elephant and Castle area.

Those two projects will cost £3.9bn and involve the construction of hundreds of new homes, shops and open spaces and the rebuilding of several schools.

Jean Bartlett, chair of the Aylesbury Tenants Association, said it was unfair to describe it as a "sink estate" but she conceded there were problems and the blocks needed to come down and be redeveloped.

"It will take about 20 years to complete and cost billions of pounds but it's considered a high priority and hopefully the money can be found for it," she said.